cover image Second Person Singular

Second Person Singular

Sayed Kashua, trans. from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsburg. Grove, $25 (352p) ISBN

“The lawyer” is a well-off Israeli Arab who becomes obsessed with the thought that his wife is having an affair. His violent reaction is disturbing, but apparently necessary to set in motion the chain of events that link him with the man he suspects is his wife’s lover. At its best, this novel illuminates just how fluid identity can be, even—or especially—amid the Arab-Israeli tension of Jerusalem. While the actual constructs of the plot can veer into the implausible, as when a paralyzed Jewish boy’s mother allows his Palestinian caretaker to steal her son’s identity, the deception sparks a compelling two-sided narrative: the young Palestinian man, pretending to be Jewish, enrolls in school and overhears Arabs’ conversations but never lets on that he understands. Unfortunately, the writing, often redundant and sluggish, could have used a shrewd editor. Kashua, a columnist for Haaretz, has sharp insights on the assumptions made about race, religion, ethnicity, and class that shape Israeli identity. Ideally, next time he will trade a cumbersome plot for characters that bring his wisdom to light. Agent: Deborah Harris, the Deborah Harris Agency. (Apr.)